A new bridge is offering safe, sustainable access to those utilizing the Whiteoak Canyon trailhead.
Last week, a ribbon cutting was held for the 35-foot span bridge across Cedar Run. The bridge is the culmination of a project that began in 2016 when work was done to evaluate culvert problems along the east slope of the Shenandoah National Park. The original bridge, created by Graves Mountain Lodge owner Jimmy Graves, has been repaired numerous times. Graves had purchased the land and created the bridge decades ago when someone had a heart attack and there was no way to get to them. Since then, the access and parking lot has been a popular spot for those accessing Whiteoak Canyon, parking nearly 200 cars. In 2018, due to heavy rains, the bridge deteriorated to the point of being unsafe for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The new bridge was installed over a two-and-a-half week period in September. In addition to fixing access issues, the $110,000 project also corrected some fish movement problems. The old bridge would clog with debris during high flows requiring continued maintenance. The clogging would reroute water, causing erosion of stream banks and the structure itself. Since the new bridge allows water to freely flow beneath it, it opens up three miles of stream habitat to native brook trout, American eel and other species and reduces erosion.
“Initial funding was made possible through the fish passage program and along with Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) funding, we were able to get it done,” Trout Unlimited’s Seth Coffman said. “The benefits of this project are twofold. More habitat available for brook trout and other native aquatic species and more reliable access to the Shenandoah National Park for visitors. Brook trout require healthy watersheds and stream habitat to survive and thrive. Equally important is access to that habitat, and the more habitat that is available the more resilient brook trout populations will be into the future.”
Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller said he is a prime example of why projects like the new bridge are important. He said as a child growing up in Alexandria, his family would come to Whiteoak Canyon and to them, it felt like coming to the wilderness. He said Graves always provided the entrance which would now be opened up to so many more people. He said PEC was happy to be involved with the project.
“Whiteoak Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park, with spectacular waterfalls within a two-hour drive of Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg, and Richmond,” he said. “We are excited to be part of such an important project that, quite literally, enhances community connections to nature and wildlife.”
Shenandoah National Park Superintendent Jennifer Flynn said she, too, was excited for the project. She pointed out that the parking lot and access are not on federal property, but rather on Graves’ property which the park has started leasing in the past several years to compensate for the gift being given to the people utilizing it.
“We really couldn’t have done it without you,” she told Graves. She also thanked those who contributed to the project. “We had no mechanism to do this work without the partners. We are very, very grateful.”
Albert Spells with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the project is a prime example of how partnerships work.
“We’ve been so blessed to have good partners to work with,” he said.
The bridge project is one of five restoration projects having been completed on private lands adjacent to Shenandoah National Park. The projects are all part of a regional initiative led by PEC, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Rappahannock and other partners to reconnect stream habitat for brook trout and improve water quality for other at-risk species. The Whiteoak Canyon project was funded by grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Orvis, PEC, the Nimick Forbesway Foundation and the Ohrstrom Foundation.